I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Yonder (set to be published this May) by Ali Standish. I love the selection at The Wandering Jellyfish and their recs, but I don’t read a ton of middle grade. On the flip side, as book seller Allie teases me, WWII books find me, so I figured it had to be good, right? Right!
(Oh and here’s a link to my vlog review too)
I FLEW through this book, faster than the jewelbirds and faster than Danny rides his bike delivering papers. It was amazing. It’s hard to know where to start, so, I suppose I’ll start by saying that I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled by the author’s note. I LOVED that Standish 1) gave us a peek into her research process, 2) explained some of the impetus behind the book and 3) gave a social critique.
As much as I consider myself a writer, I’m also 100% an academic, I love picking things apart to learn more. And to see a writer’s process is the perfect melding of these loves. It was also super refreshing and interesting to learn some of Standish’s rationale–I’ve recently become very frustrated by the way that (in my experience) American history is taught, and the fact that she called this out, “not many books have focused on the American home front,” was extremely intriguing to me. That’s what I think makes Yonder so unique–we see this iconic war through a totally new lens and it’s so artfully done. Finally, as much as I loved the social criticism that’s sprinkled throughout the book, I thought it was very inspiring that Standish pushes readers to look at historical and modern events with a critical eye. Again, my academic side is just *chef’s kiss*-ing this author’s note!
But enough about that, let’s talk about the book–
It’s the early 1940s and WWII is raging. Danny’s almost thirteen, living in Appalachia, missing his father, and somewhat alone in the world. Some of this is of his own doing–he wasn’t a very good friend and hurt one of his deepest relationships–and some of it is due to unfortunate circumstances–he’s the town bully’s favorite target and his hero has gone missing.
His search for his hero–Jack, a boy who’s a few years ahead of Danny–leads him down this beautifully complex coming of age story that incorporates mystery, a push for social justice, and a look at our shared history.
I simply loved how nuanced and layered this story is. Standish really took on quite the task with this one. While most historical fiction stories, to some degree, ask readers to consider (or reconsider) the past and how it may (or may not) affect the present/future, Yonder pushes it even further. Not only does she ask readers to question what 1940s patriotism looked like–is a scrap metal drive the way to really “do one’s part,” was it right to exclude a whole group of people from enlisting simply because of their skin, etc.–but she also makes readers consider PTSD, child abuse, bullying… Yonder is simultaneously so serious and so innocent since we see the world, and the war, through the eyes of an adolescent, and it’s so beautifully done.
The characters are nuanced and developed, I ADORED the development we see with Danny. I was also impressed by the amount of self-awareness he expressed–especially when his little sister is born. It was like we saw the shimmers of wanting to do more, be more, and when she came into his life, that was the catalyst for him. I think it’s fairly realistic in that change, like courage, grows with time. I love that Danny wasn’t perfect, that he became better, that he wanted his town to be better…and I liked that his actions (directly or not) inspired some change in his town.
I also thought that the pacing and organization of the book was really well done. There was just enough exposition balanced with action; and I enjoyed how there were temporal shifts between the “before” time and the present. “Before” is generally taking place 1940-43, before Jack’s disappearance (and Danny’s subsequent shift in worldview) and “present” is June 1943 as Danny seeks out Jack and finds so much more than he was expecting.
This is an excellent book that I definitely recommend–don’t be fooled by its middle-grade label either. YA and adult readers are also likely to enjoy this read as it has various elements that are sure to appeal to a wide range of readers. Since the book won’t be officially released until May, it isn’t currently available, but if this review has piqued your interest, you can preorder the book now with the link at the beginning of this post.
That’s all I’ve got for this week! Next week, I’ll be working with our other local bookshop, Inkberry books with Francesca Ciancimino Howell‘s Food, Festival and Religion.